Dona Luisa’s famous codfish recipe

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A year ago, we had a memorable meal at Solar dos Amigos, a restaurant in the small village of Guisado near Caldas da Rainha. We returned this year for another great experience. Our lunch started with succulent lamb chops, grilled to perfection. They were followed by a wispy, tasty “Bacalhau à Campino” (peasant style codfish) served inside the hearty country bread that is baked at the restaurant.

Dona Luisa Nunes, the restaurant’s owner and chef, is in great form and so is her octogenarian father who continues to produce a delightful wine that pairs perfectly with the food served at the Solar.

When we praised her famous codfish Campino style, dona Luisa offered to give us the recipe so we could share it with you, dear reader. Follow the instructions and you’ll have a delicious codfish meal. But, will it taste as good as when dona Luisa prepares it?  Not a chance!

Codfish Campino style

Soak 4 slices of salted codfish for two days, changing the water periodically to remove the salt.

Boil the cod for 15 minutes. Reserve the water, remove the skin and the bones, and shred the fish by hand. Boil a green cabbage and drain the water (dona Luisa favors a pusa-drum-head cabbage, known in Portugal as “repolho coração de boi”).  Open the top of a country bread, remove the inside of the bread and soak it for 5 minutes in the water used to boil the codfish. Carefully drain the water from the bread.

Combine olive oil and sliced garlic in a frying pan. Add the soaked bread, the shredded codfish, the cabbage and 2 pounds of cooked red beans. Season with salt and pepper and let the mixture simmer gently for a few minutes. Place the mixture inside the country bread, cover with the bread lid, season with olive oil and place in the oven for a few minutes, until the bread turns golden. Decorate with parsley sprigs and serve.

Solar dos Amigos is located on a small village called Guisado, 100 km north of Lisbon. The restaurant’s address is Rua Principal, 49, Guisado, Caldas da Rainha. Even though the restaurant is large, it is a good idea to make reservations. Their telephone number is 262-877-135. Click here for their website.

Eating with the best people in Vila Real

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“I’m sorry, but we cannot accommodate you. We won’t have a free table any time soon,” said Eleutério Lameirão in a serious tone that agrees with his solemn name. His small restaurant, located in a residential area of Vila Real, was full of regular customers.

Before we left, we took a glance at the menu and found a quote by Julia Child: “People who love to eat are always the best people.” Inspired by this quote, we decided to wait. Eleutério gave us a puzzled look, but fifteen minutes later he had a table for us.

We ordered rissois, fried breaded dough shaped like a half moon with a shrimp or meat filling. Eleutério brought them to the table and waited around to see our reaction. They were crispy on the outside and full of flavor on the inside.  When we said “wow, these are amazing!” Eleutétio abandoned his shy demeanor and smiled, pleased by our reaction. He went back into the kitchen and brought us a plate of codfish cakes. These were also extraordinary: light, airy and slightly crunchy, a four-part harmony of cod, parsley, egg, and potato.

Finally, we had small sardines called “petingas,” incredibly fresh, fried and seasoned to perfection. They came with an hearty bean rice that melted in the mouth and blended with the salty sardines.

The restaurant was still very busy but Eleutério came to chat with us. He told us that the menu is always small, three or four items made with the best fresh ingredients and modestly priced. The recipes have been refined over many years and require great attention to detail. “It is hard work because there’s no room for distractions. Everything has to be right, the timing, the temperature, the seasoning. But it is worth it because when everything is right the taste is amazing,” he said. If you ever have the privilege of eating at O Lameirão, we think you’ll agree.

The restaurant O Lameirão is located on Rua da Cruz, Vila Real, tel. 259 346 881.

Perfection at Adraga

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When we were very young, our parents used to take us to an idyllic beach with crystal blue waters and natural rock archways sculpted by the sea. In the end of the afternoon, we often had dinner in a small restaurant right on the beach.  It was simple fare: “percebes” (gooseneck barnacles), grilled fish, and salad. But the flavor and aromas were amazing and so was the spectacle of the sun setting on the ocean. We forgot the name of the beach and that is just as well, for places change and fail to live up to our memories of them.

During a visit to Sintra this summer, we decided to have lunch in the nearby Adraga beach. As soon as we arrived, we realized that this was the beach from our childhood!  There were little kids playing in the same rock archways we once loved and bathing in the same blue waters we so much enjoyed.

We sat at the beachside restaurant and ordered “percebes,” grilled fish, and salad. We kept our expectations low. Surely, the food has changed. Then the seafood and fish arrived, fresh, full of flavor, meticulously prepared. It was as if we were going back in time, to a simplicity and authenticity that are so rare today.

We complimented Jorge Pimenta and his mother Suzette, the restaurant owners, on the quality of their food. They responded with modesty: “Everything we do is simple but we try to do it well.  The percebes were caught this morning right on the beach. The fish is very fresh. All we do is respect the ingredients that the sea brings to us.”

The reasonably-priced wine list has many great choices. But in a restaurant where everything is local, it makes sense to drink the magical wine produced nearby in Casal de Santa Maria by a Russian Baron who is 103 years old.

The same family has owned the Restaurante da Adraga for four generations. In the beginning of the 20th century, queen Dona Amélia used to come here to eat fish while the king hunted in the Sintra mountain. One century later, the Adraga restaurant continues to delight anyone who loves great food, whether or not they have royal blood.

Restaurante da Adraga is located at Praia da Adraga, 143, Sintra, tel. 219280028. Reservations are a must. Ask for a table near the windows facing the beach for a spectacular view.

Finding truffles in Bombarral

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Bombarral’s rolling hills offer their vines daily to the sun. In return, the star ripens the grapes so they can make intense, aromatic wines. The region is full of small wineries and traditional restaurants waiting to be discovered.

Our latest find is a restaurant called Dom José. It is named after José Louro who in 1992 left his job in London to open a restaurant in his hometown. His son Nelson told us that “My father used the honorary prefix Dom to name the restaurant, but we don’t have royal blood.”

Nelson was working in London in the real estate industry when, in 2012, his father announced he was selling the restaurant. Nelson quit his job and came to Bombarral to run Dom José. “I have no regrets,” he said. “I like the idea of building on what my father did and making the restaurant better every day.”

The menu offers traditional food prepared with great care using the wonderful ingredients that the region offers. Our meal began with clams bulhão Pato. The clams were succulent and their sauce was a poem to the brilliant simplicity of Portuguese gastronomy. Next, Nelson brought out his version of “fish and chips.” The fish was moist and the batter crisp. The chips were replaced by a hearty bean and spinach rice. The last dish was a wonderful “feijoada” (stewed beans and cabbage) made with black pork. It is so popular that it always on the menu.

We told Nelson that we were too full to venture into dessert territory. “But I saved the best for last,” he said as he placed on the table a plate of chocolate truffles. They melted in our mouths filling our palates with caramel, lime, and chocolate sensations. “Where do you get these magnificent truffles?” we asked. “After I started running the restaurant, my sister Carla left her banking job in London to study with William Curley, a famous British chocolatier. Then, she joined me at the restaurant. Her truffles are a great success. They’re already sold in many gourmet shops and we are starting to export them to England.”

We left the restaurant inspired by the nobility of what Carla and Nelson are doing. And certain that, somewhere in their ancestry, there is royal blood.

Dom José is located at Rua Dr Alberto Martins dos Santos 4, in Bombarral, tel. 262 604 384.

A roadside restaurant

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Before highway A1 was built, it took a long time to drive from the north of Portugal to Lisbon. To make the trip easier to endure, our parents liked to stop at a small roadside restaurant in Pombal called Manjar do Marquês. As soon as we sat down, we were served a delicious tomato rice with a choice of accompaniments, such as codfish cakes, veal milanese, or fried hake.

After a long hiatus, we recently returned to Manjar do Marquês. We entered the restaurant’s new premises just off highway A1 with some trepidation. What if the food is not as wonderful as we remember it? Would we destroy our childhood memories? Luckily, some things never change: the tomato rice is as appetizing as ever.

We asked the owner, Maria Graça, what makes her rice taste so good. She smiled and answered: “My husband really wanted to have a restaurant. I worked for the phone company and had no cooking experience. But I was very much in love with him, so I quit my job to become a cook. My food was different because everything I did, I did with love. And that continues to be true.”

Today Maria Graça is 84 years old and still works 10 hours a day at the restaurant. Could her hearty tomato rice be the key to longevity?  It’s worth stopping by Manjar do Marquês to find out.

Manjar do Marquês is located on Estada Nacional 1 (IC2), Pombal, 170 km north of Lisbon, tel. 236-218-818. Click here for the restaurant’s website.

Eating by the sea in Azores

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Beira Mar, a family-owned restaurant in the Azores island of Terceira, has been a favorite dinning destination for four decades. It is always busy so, if you don’t have a reservation, you’ll probably have to wait for a table.

The service is orchestrated by a small troupe of waiters who move with elegance and speak with eloquence about fish and seafood. We could not tell whether they had trained as ballet dancers or as marine biologists.

Our meal started with “cracas,” a local type of seafood that has a delicate crab-like meat and a wonderful salty juice. We then sampled some orange delicacies called “lapas” that were briny and full of flavor.

Next, we had some amazing boca negra (black mouth), a fish that in continental Portugal we call cantaril. We also tried some wonderful species that were new to us: cântaro, bicudas, and lírio. They were all incredibly fresh and arrived at the table grilled to perfection. Terras de Lava, a white wine from the nearby Pico island, was the perfect complement to all this bounty from the sea.

Beira Mar is a simple place; no money was wasted on decoration or fancy silverware. And yet, the restaurant feels luxurious because we can enjoy the sunset over the harbor while feasting on the precious flavors of the sea. It is the kind of luxury we love.

Beira Mar’s address is Canada do Porto, number 46, São Mateus, Terceira, Azores, tel.  295 642 392. Reservations are highly recommended.

Noah surf house

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If you’re looking for the perfect place to have an aperitif on a romantic date, we suggest you try Noah Surf House in the Santa Cruz beach, 40 miles north of Lisbon.

The building is minimalistic, designed to frame the gorgeous ocean views. The space is furnished with colorful tables and benches made from reclaimed wood, as if to stress that everything on the beach is a gift from the sea.

During Fall or Winter you might have this magical place all for yourself. During Spring or Summer, you’re likely to find it full of beautiful people who gather here to enjoy the setting of the sun.

It is impossible not to fall in love with Noah. And it is easy to fall in love with the person who brought you there.

Noah Surf House is on Avenida do Atlantico, A dos Cunhados,  tel 261 932 355. Click here for their web site.